How I learned English

January 22, 2014

1199 words, a 6 minutes read

As you may know, English is not my first language. It’s Swiss German, that’s German with a great mix of dialects. You may understand it, but there’s no spelling for it, and it’s mostly a spoken language.

So how did I end up using English to this extent? I really like it, I sometimes even formulate my thoughts in English. It’s a language that almost anyone understands, and it’s not that complicated and full of rules like German. To be honest, people here wouldn’t want to learn German if they didn’t already speak it. If you’re learning German though, don’t be discouraged, because it’s a beautiful language used properly.

Enough of the talking, let’s go chronologically.


This is the time where I started to really learn it. It may be because of a friend, who was imposing that he already learned English, and my attitude at that time was to be good at everything (gawd, this is awful).

It then started the same as with reading. When I was about 7 years old, Pokemon was the newest shit and everyone was playing it. I grew impatient of having to run to my mother every time I wanted to know, what it was telling me. So I learned to read, on my old GameBoy Color.

In 2005, I got a new video card for my computer, bundled with a game. Although this card was shitty (overheating all the time due to passive cooling in my jungle-like computer), Thief 3: Deadly Shadows was great. Since I only got it in English, there were no other ways than to learn it. I knew some words and made up the rest from context. This was great, since it’s a medieval setting, so you learn a lot of old words that sometimes resemble the common roots of German and English.

This was my only source of English, apart from songs of course. When you’re little, you just sing along to a somewhat phonetic resemblance of what seem to be the lyrics. This is why Misheard lyrics are so funny :D

I then joined a higher school and was thrown into English, but sorta got disappointed. I didn’t like how we were taught, but things got better later. However, I didn’t learn that much new, but I was able to bring some sort of structure to the mess of language in my mind.


These were the years, when everything I learned beforehand, proved worthy. I was able to structure sentences, based on how English works (this is where you can tell a translated German sentence from). I got my “feeling of language” for English at that time (I just learned that “sprachgefühl” is an actual word), so I could tell when it’s not sounding correct.

However, I was not good at remembering rules, I just wrote by feeling. This is somewhat easier, since you just can’t describe a language by rules, something I hate about French (no rule without a ton of exceptions). I really recommend this to anyone who’s learning a new language, get a feeling for it. It’s really easy, once you invest some time into doing something you’d do anyway, just in a foreign language.

At that time, I started to read English (mostly) on the Internet and in some short magazines. That gave me a lot of phrases to express myself, which in turn helped me write letters and stuff you do in school.

I had some down times at that time, even to the point that I wrote “library” like “bibliotheque” (“Bibliothek” in German), but I got that sorted out quickly by just reading more. I even overestimated myself then. I remember one time, when I got American Pie to watch with a friend. We both were keen on trying it out in English. After 5 minutes, it sort of started to go like in a cheap comedy show:

Do you understand anything?
Nope, you?
Neither. Let’s watch it in German

I may would have been able to understand it, but it was far too quick and far too much slang for me, at that time.


I finished school in this year, so I had no English lessons after that. Shortly before the end, I had my first experience with reading English without translating in my head. I read a manual of an (open source) software I was using on my netbook, but part of it was not yet translated. Some minutes later, I noticed that I had just read through a whole paragraph of English without even thinking about it.

After school, I took an internship at a computer shop that was offering support too. I couldn’t practice English all too much, apart from reading. I remember one occurrence though, where I was able to help an expat lady with her family’s computer.


I started my apprenticeship in 2010, so I got English in school again. This time, it was somewhat better, and I really liked English lessons again. It may be due to the fact that our teacher was from the UK and that really showed off, in having no foreign accent.

I also learned much more from other sources, like reading tech news, listening (and understanding!) more songs and using English manuals.

It was no big leap though, I just learned some more sentence structures and a lot of tenses. That didn’t help me much though, because I did it by feeling just like the years before. The only problem I had, was that in vocabulary tests I knew 2-3 translations for some asked word, but didn’t remember what the current new word was, that we just learned.


This is where things started to go better, since I discovered Top Gear. That was a great time to try out if I understand it now, and this was the case. I then started to switch to English by default, because it’s that much better than that stupid german dub. If you’ve got the time, go watch Monty Python or all the other great comedians out there.

Since I then heard a lot more English than ever before, I kinda got the sound of it in my ear. This is why I’m now always trying accents, I even like telephoning more now, just because I really like talking English.

Some people say, the point of really being able to speak a language is when you start dreaming in it. I’m not that far though, but I like thinking in English, because it’s easier with technical terms.

I think something that’s far overrated is remembering words. Even I had to look up some words for this post, not that I didn’t know them, but I just didn’t remember them in time. A great site for this is

In this post, I wanted to show you how I learned English. I hope you got a good view of why I like using it, and why I think it’s really easy.

My favorite advice: just listen, read and watch English media, it’s really worth the effort. At first, you’re struggling, but that’s not gonna last very long and your level of English will raise a lot.